Friday marked a memorable time of my life, one in which I never dreamed would happen to a person from small town southeastern Kentucky.
On Friday, I was privileged to be a part of the motorcade for Vice President Mike Pence's visit to the area to campaign on behalf of Governor Matt Bevin.
It was a surprise and honor when the call came from the White House press secretary to inform me that I had been cleared to participate in the motorcade, and even more thrilling when my editor, Erin Cox, gave me the go ahead to do so, despite the fact that left no reporter on hand to cover other local events. My text plea to her was: "When in my lifetime will I ever have the chance to do something like that again?" and she immediately said "Yes, go for it!".
The experience is one that will always remain a cherished memory - setting aside political affiliations, it is rare when the Vice President of the United States visits the smaller towns and especially London, Kentucky. But that population is what comprises our America - the blue collar workers and lower level income brackets of employees who contribute to the tax base to keep our state and nation funded for the many departments of our government.
I was assigned to Press 2 transport van, placed near the back of the motorcade. We traveled through London onto Interstate 75 to Corbin, where we were told to run a block to gain access to inside Shep's Place in downtown Corbin. I was always appalled at scenes of the media running place to place - thinking it was simply a self-motivated effort to gain the best spot for sound and video. But no - we were told from the get-go on the bus that we would have to move quickly and when told to run, to do so.
I will admit being 62 years old, overweight and a smoker (I know, I know!) who doesn't exercise that the "run" command was a challenge from jumping down from the van to street and running a block to the site we were told to stand. But, as old and out of shape as I am, I did so with enthusiasm - because how often would I have the chance to cover the Vice President of the United States visiting in my local area? (That is the missed video - the one of me running two blocks!!)
Of course, high security was a necessity and it was somewhat intimidating to see the Secret Service, FBI, DEA and other law enforcement agencies nestled atop the buildings along the stops at Shep's Place, the Williamsburg Convention Center and the Laurel-London Optimist Club. The media was kept at a distance from the dignitaries, but just being a part of such an eloquent and rare occasion was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that most people never have the chance to know first-hand.
Despite the high security, however, I cannot deny the emotions I felt as we passed along the routes to the three destinations, seeing the masses of people standing outside the numerous businesses and blocked roadways - their cell phones recording the procession of vehicles that escorted our Vice President and Governor to rural America - the land of dedicated employees and citizens whose votes determine the direction of our country.
This is the America we should be - a land where we respect our state and country's leaders regardless of our personal and political beliefs. This is the America where people should unite as one for the betterment of each of our lives and it was a rejuvenation of my faith in the people of this area and this country.
I was touched by those who stood at attention, many of whom saluted, as the motorcade passed by. The majority of those standing at attention and saluting were former military personnel who sacrificed for the security and safety of our country - the men and women who still serve their country in law enforcement and public service in their own hometowns across the United States. I turned my head from the younger media folks present aboard Press Van 2 because I couldn't contain the tears that sprang to my eyes as I watched the respect and awe that encompassed the people of this area.
It was a revelation of what I was taught as a child - respect, honor and gratitude - for those who represent what America stands for - a land where we have opportunity to achieve and excel if we try hard enough.
The rally in London was an 11th hour plea for the election and re-election of Republican state officers whose paths will determine the future of this state for the next four years - or longer.
The return to the London-Corbin Airport placed the media under the huge wing of Air Force Two to watch our Vice President board the plane back to his next destination - another opportunity that will remain embedded in my memory, as long as my memory remains intact! How many opportunities will I, as a local newspaper reporter, have to be that close to the second most important aircraft in our nation? How many chances will a small town reporter have to get within five feet of the next-in-charge of our national government?
But more importantly, how did a girl from London, Kentucky - a girl who grew up poor, wearing hand-me-down clothes and shoes that busted out of the sides, have the opportunity to travel along with the Vice President of the United States? How did a girl, raised by her mother and grandmother in a 1930's house without indoor plumbing and scraping by on $75 a month income, have the chance to participate in such a significant event for our local communities?
It is possible because this is America - the land of the brave, home of the free. This is America, where we have the opportunity to let our voices be heard and to seek our paths in life with however much determination we put into that effort.
The people standing along the roadways, recording and waving, standing at attention and saluting the leaders of our country - that is the most memorable aspect of the experience. WE are the people referred to in our Constitution, in our Declaration of Independence. WE are the people who have the freedom to cast our votes and voice our concerns to our leaders without fear of retribution by terrorists or radicals, despite the recent trends of mass shootings, protests and political discord.
Because this is America, and it is OUR America. Nowhere else in this world is such freedom and opportunity guaranteed. We should never ever take that for granted.